This is chapter 7 of my travel experience to Pune, India. This is where I begin my trip home. You should probably start reading this from Chapter 1.
I’ve just spent 5 days in Pune, India. I’m ready to go home. My itinerary is:
- Pune to Delhi
- Delhi to Chicago
- Chicago to San Francisco
One cool aspect of this trip is that I actually flew a complete revolution around the entire planet. All 25,000 miles of it. I left San Francisco going westbound to Pune. On my way home I flew eastbound and completed my circumference around the globe.
My flight departed Pune at 6:20pm and was scheduled to land in Delhi at 8:35pm. My connecting flight is on American Airlines and it departs at 12:10am. 3.5 hour layover. Plenty of time for a connecting flight, right? If you’ve been following along, you know better. My flight to Delhi was pretty uneventful. I know better than to let a positive thought cross my head, so I anticipate the worst. However, we land without incident and on time. Okay, now India’s just toying with me.
Anywhere else in the world, transferring from a domestic flight to an international flight is a very easy process for the traveler. You get off your plane and walk, or take the tram, to the International terminal and wait for your plane to board. Your bags magically get transferred to the correct airplanes, and it might take you at most 10 minutes to get to the other terminal. Probably less time. Not so in India.
As I hop off the plane and load up onto our bus, we’re driven to the terminal where we need to pickup out bags, before we can be shuttled over to the international terminal. Your bags don’t just auto-magically get transferred to you new plane. You need to make that happen. I ask myself, what about security? Then it dawns on me. If I can access my bag that has been through the security at the Pune airport, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to run through security again here in Delhi.
The carousel starts up about 9:05pm and my bag is one of the first off. Yee-haw. I am looking for a sign such as “Tram to International Terminal” or “International Gates” but I find nothing. I ask the guy at the information booth how I get to the International terminal.
“You will have to take the International terminal bus. It departs here every hour, on the hour.”
I look down at my watch. 9:15pm.
“So I just missed the bus? I need to wait here for another 45 minutes before the next bus comes?”
“I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but that sucks. Certainly there is another way for me to get to the International terminal?”
“No, sir. This is it. If you want to catch some sleep, you can rest on the chairs over here. I will be sure to wake you when the bus arrives.”
“You know what I’d like to catch more than sleep? My flight. I’m guessing that since I have my luggage in hand again, there will be another security lineup, correct?”
“Yes, sir. But don’t worry, you still have plenty of time. You will make your flight.”
My Spidey-sense is tingling. I have the impression that he’s just saying this since he’ll never see me ever again once I hop on that bus. Since I don’t have any choices here, I find a seat and wait for the bus to arrive at 10pm. It promptly arrives and I see people making their way over to the door to get onto the bus. The bus was probably built in 1950 … 1960 at the latest. There’s only a limited amount of room beneath the bus for luggage so once that fills up, they just start piling it inside the bus with the passengers. I’m still way at the back of the line and start wondering if there will still be room for myself and my luggage. There’s that awful feeling again.
As I’m wondering if I’m going to make it onto this bus, I see a bald Australian man being escorted to the front of the line and immediately put on the bus. Hmmm. Must have a connector that he’s going to miss. Wait a minute. We’re all going on the same bus. What difference does it make what order you load yourself onto it? Uhh, none.
Note to self: He’s done this many times before and knows how to work the system. Keep an eye on baldy.
I manage to make it on the bus. There’s no room under the bus so I walk up the stairs into the cabin area. There’s a pile, yes, a pile, of luggage as tall as me that people are crawling over to get to a seat. Of course, since we’re at the end of the line, there are no more seats left. I struggle and pull my luggage over the pile and let it flop over onto the other side. I just leave it there and it fits right in with the rest of the bags. The bus pulls away at 10:30. It takes 30 minutes for the entire loading process. Then, it’s a 15 minute bus ride, a very bumpy bus ride, to the International terminal. Now I know why this bus only comes once an hour.
Normally, in any other part of the civilized world, when you are transfered to a connecting flight you just pickup and go to the next gate. Not so in India. Nope. The bus is trying to drive up to the passenger drop-off area in front of the International terminal. No different than somebody who drove to the airport and wanted to go directly to the International terminal. It’s almost 11pm and there are thousands of people outside the terminal all trying to get in through one of the seven doors. Thousands of people. The bus can’t get very close to the terminal because the street is covered with people, their luggage, and all the push carts. So our bus just stops on the road and starts unloading us.
“Excuse, me. I have a connecting flight. Do I stay on the bus so you can drop me off somewhere inside the airport?”, I ask.
“Do you not have a flight?”
“Yes, I do. It’s a connecting flight.”
“Then, yes. You need to go through these doors. Any one will be fine.”
That’s when it dawned on me that there is no such thing as a connecting flight here in India. To them, it’s just another flight starting from scratch. You grab your own bags, they just shuttle you between buildings.
“It’s going to take forever to get through these doors. Is there a priority line, or special entrance for connecting passengers?” I already knew the answer, but had to ask.
“Any one of these doors will be fine, sir.”
“You guys have a lot to learn about air travel, friend. This is outrageous. I arrive a little after 9pm for a connecting flight that departs at 1am, and I’m probably not going to make it. You could stand to learn a lesson or two in the art of efficiency.”
As I’m standing there in disbelief trying to devise a plan of entry, I see my bald Aussie friend being whisked through the crowd up to the entrance, which is guarded by a military man holding an AK-47 assault rifle. Seconds later, he’s in the airport. I keep my eye on his escort now heading back into the crowd. I approach him and before I can say anything to him, he smiles and points to me.
“Yes. Departing at 12:55.” An even larger smile crosses his face.
“You are not going to make your flight.”
“How did my bald friend make his flight?”
“50.” He states without hesitation.
50 rupees is only $1 USD. I whip out a 50 rupee bill.
“No, no. 50 English.”
“I don’t think so. Here’s $10 USD, make it happen.”
I only had $25 USD on me, and I was down to about 70 rupees since I was leaving India. He nods, and asks me to follow him which is not an easy task with how crowded this place is. Also, I’m trying to haul around my laptop and pull-luggage. He’s literally crawling over people and their push carts. He sees me struggling so he calls for a helper by snapping his fingers and whistling. This tiny, thin man who couldn’t have been more than 90 pounds emerges from the crowd, lifts my bag and starts working his way through the crowd. Without my bags, I’m still having a hard time keeping up. Now I’m concerned that this is a scam and these guys are going to disappear into the crowd and make off with my $10 and luggage. Screw it. I start stepping over push carts and over luggage so I can keep up. They were true to their word though. We approach the military guard. No money exchanges hands, but some sort of deal transpired. The military guard parts a hole in the crowd with his AK-47 and allows me to pass. I’m in. And I’ve learned how the system works here here in Delhi.
First thing I have to do is have all the bags I want to check scanned. Of course, there are lines for this. I walk up to the front of the line, inform the security agent that I need to get through quickly because I’m going to miss my flight.
“Nothing I can do.” He says.
I pull out $5 USD, and the next thing I know my bags are being scanned and I’m through. Excellent. They way they secure your bags, is comical. After your checked luggage goes through the scanner the put a single strand of fiberglass tape around your luggage. The kind of tape they might use at Home Depot if you bought 4-5 2×4’s and they wanted to hold them together. You can still easily unzip your luggage, get stuff from your bag and also put stuff in it.
It’s after 11pm and I’ve got two hours until my flight departs. I approach the American Airlines booth and it’s closed. I ask when it will be open for the 12:55 flight.
“We just closed, sir.”
“How can you close, there’s still 2 hours until the flight?”
“Yes, but there is immigration, customs, and security that you still need to go through. You won’t be able to do all of that in only 2 hours.”
“You have got to be kidding me? How long ago did you close?”
“Only 5 minutes ago, sir.”
Haunting memories of my hotel stay in Delhi are still fresh in my mind. I am not spending another night here. No way. The gate agent is female, has a wedding ring, and might have children. I don’t know, but she seems to be a kid person. All week Nancy had been sending me photos of her and the boys on my cell phone which I loved. I open my phone to the last picture Nancy sent me of Alex and Max hugging on the couch.
“I have been away from my family for a long time. See these two boys? They’re waiting for me at home. They are expecting me to walk off this airplane when it lands. I miss them dearly. How do I get on this flight tonight?” She ponders for a few seconds while holding my phone and looking at the picture.
“Do you just have the one bag to check?”
“Yes, just the one. If you can check my bag, I will take care of the rest. I will make it to the plane before they close the doors. I just need you to check my bags. I’ll take care of the rest. Please.”
“I can’t promise that they’ll wait for you, so you must hurry. Okay, let me have your bag.” Hot damn!! I could have kissed her when I heard those words. Having adorable kids pays off.
Customs has an area for you to fill out the forms. Yes, you fill out a customs form when you leave this country as well as entering it! The form asks what you are taking out, etc. They have a single long line that then breaks out into 8 smaller lines for each of the agents. I approach the security guard, slip him $5 USD and I just bypassed the long line. I still have to wait in the short lines though.
Immigration is next and has 8 desks all with lines of 200 or more people in them. I can’t pay the immigration agents because they’re behind their little desks and not accessible. However, I go to the front of the line and offer $5 USD to a family and they let me go next. Nice. Next, it’s off to security. At this rate I should have no problem making my flight. Dammit, a positive thought. That’s going to cost me.
There are 4 security lines. All long. Once you get through the first long line, you can choose between 6 different lines to go through the metal detectors and have them scan you carry-on baggage. As I’m walking up to the military guard, not security guard, I see my bald Aussie friend in the other line. Weird, he’s waiting in line and not bribing his way through. Odd. I’m down to my last $5 and I have it in my hand. I approach the military guard and ask,
“Good evening. I am about to miss my flight. Is there anyway you could let me through?”
“No.” I pull out my wallet and make it visible to him to show him my intentions.
“Nothing at all?”, I hint.
“No.” Uh, oh. Now what.
If my well-seasoned Aussie traveler is waiting in line, and this guard isn’t going to budge, I guess it’s to the back of the line for me. Crap. As I make my way toward the end of the line I see a man and his wife being escorted to the front of the line. I observe carefully. A short conversation between the military man and the escort ensues. Within a minute, they pass through. Their escort turns around and heads back in my direction. Does he work with one of the airlines? How did he swing that?
“Excuse me, sir. I couldn’t help but notice you helping that couple through this line. I’m on the verge of missing my flight and would like to know…”
“American Airlines?”, He asks. I’m pretty sure I saw a slight smile too.
“Yes. I’m down to my last $5 USD, and 70 rupees. It’s all yours if you can get me past that guard. Deal?”
“Come with me.”
I give my new friend the money and follow him to the front of the line again. He asks me to wait about 10 paces back as he approaches the guard and has a private conversation. God knows what they talked about. Personally, I didn’t care. I was just waiting for the hand gesture to allow me to pass through.
“Okay, sir. Please, quickly!”
Through I went. It still took some time to go through security. In North America, when you walk through the metal detector, you are only pulled aside and scanned if the detector goes off. Not in India. Everyone goes through the detector, and stands on a crate while the security not only scans you, but … uh, pats you down. Pronounce the next line with the voice of Mickey Mouse.
“Hi, Pluto!!” Yikes.
I can see my gate as I’m being patted down. There at the gate is the American Airlines agent that cut me some slack and checked my bags. I can see her scanning the crowd. The security guard should have bought me breakfast they way he man-handled me, but I am focused on my goal. I sprint through the crowds and race to my gate. The gate agent spots me, smiles and cheers me on.
“I knew you would make it! Come on!”
I give her the boarding pass she printed out for me, smile and say thanks.
“You’re children should be most excited to see you.”, she says as she hands me back my boarding pass.
“And I shall let them know you helped make that happen. Again, thank you.” After all, she is the only one that I didn’t have to offer any money too.
Check out the next chapter to see how the rest of this journey goes. The fun just never ends for me on this adventure!